November 29, 2021

First with the Alderney News

(OPINION) Nigel Clarke: “The Nunnery – Setting the record straight”

3 min read

Article and photo submitted by Nigel Clarke

Currently, a great deal is being said by different parties regarding a proposal to terminate the Alderney Bird Observatory’s lease/tenancy agreement at The Nunnery – some of it misleading and inaccurate.

As someone who has been closely involved in the Nunnery story, Nigel Clarke offers his personal observations.

Over the years, the States Members have explored a number of options as how best to utilise The Nunnery, a unique heritage asset. Eventually, they settled upon the plan for a Field Centre with hostel style accommodation and managed by the Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) warden. It was to be used in respect of, birdlife, wildlife, and heritage interests.

The concept of a bird observatory on Alderney was the initiative of Paul Veron who developed the idea together with the Alderney Wildlife Trust. Initially, the AWT was given a tenancy agreement which provided for accommodation for a warden, when appointed. The AWT agreed to support the establishment of a bird observatory and provide initial financial support. The original tenancy agreement required amendments and, while a draft lease was produced, no further progress was made. Ultimately the States proposed a ‘licence’ arrangement for the use of the accommodation. However, this was not progressed, despite the then Chief Executive being instructed to do so in June 2019. Subsequently, recognising that the premises were not suitable for habitation, the Victorian era building was refurbished at a cost of £317,000.

Few people will be aware of the behaviour and actions of individuals including the former Chief Executive which contributed to the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) relinquishing the Nunnery Lease in early 2019 and the eventual separation of the AWT from the ABO.

The current proposal before the States refers to the termination of a 12-month tenancy agreement which had a start date of 1st January 2020 yet was not signed until 30th July 2020. It was eventually signed on behalf of the former Chief Executive by a Civil Servant. This agreement appears to have been made without any authorisation or approval of any States Committee as official minutes are silent on the issue.

This raises questions as to who was responsible for producing the agreement, especially as it amended the criteria applicable to who could use the hostel accommodation to include ‘cultural’ uses . This change is particularly important as it effectively allows the ABO to openly compete with the Island’s hotels and guest houses. The accommodation sector is understandably concerned about competition from a States-subsidised accommodation provider who only pays an annual fee of £99/per annum for its use of the Nunnery, yet openly advertises ‘staycations’.

The intention of the States was for the Nunnery site to be run as a Field Centre alongside the bird observatory with the original proposed lease requiring strict adherence to a Nunnery Covenant.

The guidance this provided was to ensure the site was used appropriately. Alongside that was a maintenance and conservation plan, which included the eventual removal of ‘The Sunroom’. However, both the Covenant and Maintenance & Conservation Plan appear to have fallen by the wayside.

Visit Alderney is to be applauded for the work that has been carried out within the curtilage of the Nunnery site to exploit the heritage and archaeological value of the site. As one of the best examples of a small Roman fort in the United Kingdom, it is a unique visitor attraction.

Added to this, artefacts discovered during recent archaeological digs in the eastern end of Longis Common suggest there is a huge amount still to be discovered from the Iron Age, Roman, and Medieval periods. Clearly, the archaeological importance of the Nunnery and its importance as a tourist attraction far outweigh the needs of the Alderney Bird Observatory, which could probably be better housed elsewhere on the Island.

While I fully support the concept of a bird observatory (I was a member of the original ABO committee), there is no real justification for it to be sited within the Nunnery, a prestigious heritage site, especially as many ABO visitors choose to stay elsewhere on the Island.

The Nunnery has much to offer as a major visitor attraction, with opportunities for further development embracing the whole of the Nunnery Conservation Area, and this would also contribute to the Island’s GDP.

Nigel Clarke

5 thoughts on “(OPINION) Nigel Clarke: “The Nunnery – Setting the record straight”

  1. Thanks Nigel, perhaps now all this smoke and dagger nonsense will cease and the island can see a far better return on it’s investment and asset?

    I also personally believe the £317.500 that the SOA say was spent on the Nunnery is much greater when all invoices are tallied up. The people need to know the total amount spent and the truth.

  2. I am watching this with interest, as are many.

    May I suggest that the misinformation and reactive, defensive stances being adopted by parties involved could be addressed by the process being set in motion by sharing with the ABO, and the public, where the proposed alternative sites, to which you refer, are. Surely it’s less threatening to rehouse it and reassuring for that current warden and his family that this isn’t another attempt by the AWT to displace them altogether.

    It does appear, from the outside looking in as quite a hostile move, whatever the motivation, to displace the observatory first, knowing that it needs to fulfill certain criteria to maintain it’s accreditation as an observatory.

    Bearing in mind that one of the politicians who have brought this before the SOA was nominated by yourself, and you currently sit on the AWT board and The AWT have already tried, and failed, to displace John Horton (who quite amazingly, you haven’t referred to in your post). There is an equal amount of misinformation out there about John, like his recent, so called ‘sacking’, as it has been repeatedly referred to in Alderney’s media.

    From where I am standing when you are saying you are in full support of a bird observatory, I believe you. Just not this one, with this warden, in this location.

    Like I say, this is garnering interest from further afield and by the entrepreneurs that Alderney’s new ‘think tank’ will be trying to attract. Let’s hope they don’t believe that there their efforts, business ideas and hard work will be met with the same approach.

    1. The warden and his family rent a flat at the lighthouse.

      The bird observatory only need a shed to operate out of, they do not need an entire fort, that sleeps 10 or more that was completely refurbished by the SOA.

      The ABO pay a peppercorn rent £99.00 per year (not current market rates) the warden was on a salary (until very recently) greater than our states members, given a start up fee and an endless amount of other works completed by others and again paid for by the SOA. The true amount of the refurbishment is yet to be revealed, but I can safely say it is a lot more than than the £317,500 than is been brandished about.

      I say again John is doing a sterling job as warden, if he and the ABO want to get into the accommodation sector then they should start from scratch and find their own property and dig into their own pockets and compete with the rest of the sector on a level playing field.

      No credible accounts have been produced by the ABO since taking on the Nunnery, this is after all public money we are talking about here. It’s time to send this cash cow to the abattoir.

  3. I’m a Guernsey birdwatcher who has visited Alderney with my family several times to learn from John Horton, a world class ornithologist, and study your incredible bird population. We stayed twice in the Braye Beach hotel and once at the Nunnery, spending altogether several thousand pounds into Alderney’s economy.

    Nigel Clarke nominated at least two of the politicians behind the move to close down the ABO, Boyd Kelly and Bill Abel, according to their manifestos.

    After the way in which John and the ABO have been treated by your politicians in the pocket of the AWT and nominated into office by Nigel Clark, a board member of the AWT, I will not be returning to Alderney if the AWT succeed in their land grab of the Nunnery. Will the other keen birdwatchers on Guernsey and in the U.K. and France feel the same? I think so.

    The Covid restrictions will shortly be removed and the island will have more visitors wanting to come than there are beds. So the Alderney States responds by shutting down 10 beds!!

    Once again Alderney shoots itself in the financial foot. Don’t expect Guernsey to keep bailing you out of your messes.

  4. With regards Nigel Dupont’s comments, waiting for the final bill(s) to come in for the Nunnery, can someone please let me know who I should send mine? The SOA or the ABO?

    I and other AWT volunteers spent hours at the Nunnery doing manual/tedious work ,cleaning, cutting back the ivy, building flat pack furniture etc etc . . . only so the ABO would be handed (and its guests) a fully functional clean hostel.

    From where I sit the bill should have been several hundred man hours more than it is currently, or has this been conveniently forgotten? A win-win situation for the SOA and the ABO. Never forget unpaid volunteers were involved (and some still are) in this project and to what end? Not Impressed!

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